Go to hospital, it's free, west Aucklanders told

Waitakere Hospital (Dan Satherley/Newshub.)
Waitakere Hospital (Dan Satherley/Newshub.)

Health officials are urging west Aucklanders not to turn up to emergency departments if they don't need to.

John Tamihere's Waipareira Trust has erected billboards and taken out adverts in a local newspaper telling people to go to hospital if they're feeling sick after-hours, because it's a "free medical service".

"We cannot have whanau not seeking medical care because they don't have the money," former Labour Party MP Mr Tamihere said.

"That's why I urge whanau, if you are feeling unwell go directly to the Waitakere Hospital's Accident and Emergency. I would expect that at the A&E they will be treated with respect and quality."

It's the latest salvo in a campaign the trust has been running for the last few years. Mr Tamihere made the same complaints in 2014, telling the Western Leader then people shouldn't "die because they didn't have the money for proper treatment".

The advert that appeared in the Western Leader on Thursday (Fairfax/Waipareira Trust)
The advert that appeared in the Western Leader on Thursday (Fairfax/Waipareira Trust)

The adverts are new, however. Dr Debbie Holdsworth, director of funding for Waitemata District Health Board, told Newshub people should only show up at Waitakere Hospital if they have a medical emergency.

"Unnecessary presentations to the emergency department will have a significant impact on the care we can provide to people who are seriously ill or injured. This may include slower response times for real emergencies and longer waiting times.

"The emergency department must be used responsibly and patients should seek the most appropriate form of care for their need.  This will usually be their family doctor or urgent care clinic."

Mr Tamihere says the $92 cost for a consultation is too expensive for struggling families, but the DHB says it's free for under-13s at what it calls "urgent care clinics".

White Cross refused to tell Newshub what it charged for under-13s. Its fee schedule is not provided on its website.

Dr Holdsworth said it's also cheaper for over-65s and people with "high needs". White Cross refused to divulge any of its prices.

The Waitemata DHB said it suspected the Waipareira Trust was going to run the campaign this winter, as "it goes back several years".

Last month, it was reported some emergency departments have dealt with overcrowding by sending patients away with vouchers for private services.

A review of the country's emergency departments released in January found 93 percent of patients presenting at emergency departments are discharged or transferred within six hours - up from 80 percent in 2009.

A quarter of all emergency department admissions are related to alcohol consumption. Thousands of junior doctors went on strike last year, saying they were overworked.